Next of kin is the term used to describe your closest living relative, such as your spouse or civil partner. The UK does not have laws around who you can name as your next of kin, but there are specific rules for who takes responsibility when someone dies.
Next of kin meaning
Next of kin is a term used to describe your closest living relative or relatives. You may be asked to name someone as your next of kin if you’re in hospital or if you’re taking part in an activity with a certain level of risk – such as a skydive or bungee jump.
In the event of someone’s death, next of kin may also be used to describe the person or people who stand to inherit if the person who died did not leave a will.
Who is your next of kin legally in the UK?
As far as UK law is concerned, there is not a clear rule around who can be your next of kin, except in the case of children under 18. For children under 18, next of kin is someone who has the legal authority to make decisions on their behalf – such as a parent or legal guardian.
How does the NHS define next of kin?
When someone is admitted to hospital in the UK, they’re asked to name someone as their next of kin. Most hospitals are very flexible with how they define next of kin, allowing you to choose anyone from your partner, to a parent, to your best friend.
If you’re unconscious at the time you’re admitted to hospital, doctors and nurses will try and work out your next of kin. In this scenario, they will usually choose the closest relative they can get in touch with – likely a spouse, parent or adult child.
The next of kin of a patient in hospital is usually responsible for:
Being easily contactable if the situation changes and other people need to be notified
Collecting the patient once the treatment has been completed
Making sensible decisions if the patient loses capacity
Who is the next of kin when someone dies?
When dealing with a bereavement, people often use the term next of kin to describe the closest relative or relatives of the person who died. This is who doctors, nurses and, in some cases, police officers notify first so that they can inform other family and friends.
Next of kin can, however, mean more than just a point of contact after death; the term can also be used to describe who can legally inherit from an estate when someone dies without making a will and who can apply for probate.
An ‘estate’ is all the money and property someone owned on their death, after the payment of any debts and liabilities.
When someone dies without leaving a will, exactly who inherits first and how much they inherit is defined by a set of laws in England and Wales called the rules of intestacy.
This is the next-of-kin order of priority under the rules of intestacy:
1. Spouse or civil partner
As well as all the personal belongings and household items, a surviving spouse or civil partner will also inherit the first £270,000 of the estate (or £250,000 if the death was before 6 February 2020 but after 1 October 2014). They’ll also get interest from the date of death and if there’s anything left, it’s split in two - half goes to the spouse or civil partner and the other half is split between any children. If there are no children, the spouse or civil partner gets everything, as long as they survive for 28 days.
The term ‘spouse’ is a word used to describe the husband or wife, in relation to their married partner. It includes people who have separated. However, divorcees cannot inherit from an ex-spouse’s estate.
As above, if the person who died was survived by their spouse or civil partner and their estate is worth more than £270,000, their children get an equal share of everything over £270,000. If there is no living spouse or civil partner, the entire estate is divided equally between the children.
‘Children’ includes illegitimate and adopted children, but step-children and other step-relatives do not inherit anything under the intestacy rules.
If one of the children has already died, their share is divided equally between their own children (the grandchildren of the person who died).
If there is no surviving spouse or civil partner and no living children or grandchildren, everything is split between the living parents.
4. Brothers and sisters
If there is no surviving spouse or civil partner and no living children or grandchildren and no living parents, everything is split between the living full brothers and sisters (who share both parents with the person who died). If any full brother or sister has previously died leaving children, those children will get their parent’s share.
5. Half-brothers and half-sisters
If there are no surviving members in the above categories, the next to inherit would be half brothers and sisters (who share one parent with the person who died). Everything’s split equally between the half-siblings. If any half brother or sister has previously died leaving children, those children will get their parent’s share.
7. Aunts and uncles
The next group to inherit are full aunts and uncles. If any died leaving children (cousins of the person who has died with the same 2 grandparents), those children will get their parent’s share.
8. Half-aunts and uncles
As above, if any half-aunts and uncles died leaving children (half-cousins of the person who has died who share 1 grandparent), those children will get their parent’s share.
You can find out more about the rules of intestacy here.
Applying for probate
The next of kin under the rules of intestacy are also responsible for applying for probate (otherwise referred to as ‘letters of administration’) when someone dies without a will. Although, not every estate will require probate.
Once an application for probate has been sent to the Probate Registry and approved, the next of kin will be named on the grant (the legal document) as the administrator of the estate. They’ll then be able to access accounts, sell property and distribute assets in accordance with the order of priority under the intestacy rules. You can have up to 4 administrators named on the grant of probate, but they must all be from the same highest possible category of next of kin. For example, a brother couldn’t apply for probate or act as administrator of the estate if the person who died had children and grandchildren.
If you're the next of kin and need help applying for probate or understanding whether probate is required, call Farewill today on 020 3695 1713 for a free, no obligation quote.
Note: If the person who died did write a will, the executors of the will are responsible for applying for probate.
Does the next of kin need to pay for the funeral?
The next of kin may need to take charge of arranging and paying for the funeral if the person who has died did not make a will. If the person did make a will, the executor is usually responsible for dealing with the funeral arrangements.
An ‘executor’ is the person or persons who are named in the will as having the responsibility of administering the estate and making sure that the written wishes of the person who has died are followed. In most cases, the executors of the will will work closely with the next of kin to arrange the funeral.
If there is a will and there are professional executors appointed, such as a bank or solicitors, they may be happy for the next of kin to make all of the arrangements for the funeral.
If someone you know has died without a will
And you haven’t yet applied for probate, Farewill’s Essential Probate service can help you get a probate grant for as little as £595. Or if you’d like us to take care of all of the estate admin for you, we also offer a Complete Probate service. Find the right probate service for you.
Executors will need to be kept updated on the likely cost of the funeral, including things like the wake, flowers, headstone and any other related costs. The executors may require invoices and receipts for these things. This is because funeral expenses are payable from the estate of the person who has died and so the next of kin may be able to be reimbursed for these costs from the estate.
Most banks and building societies will be happy to release some of the money they are holding for the estate to the executors or next of kin so that the funeral expenses can be paid before probate is granted. Copies of invoices may need to be provided to the bank where the person who died had an account. Sometimes though, it might not be possible for funds to be released until probate is granted. Each bank has its own rules on releasing funds from an estate and so it’s best to check with them in the first instance.
On average, funerals cost £4,800 in the UK and include things like hiring a funeral director, sending invitations to family and friends, ordering flowers, and sorting out catering for the wake.
If you would prefer something a bit less traditional, you could arrange a direct cremation with Farewill for just £895. You'll then be free to plan a truly personal memorial service that's right for you and your family.
To find out more about our simple cremation service, call Farewill today on 020 3966 3935.
What happens if I can't afford a funeral?